How to have a green Christmas

Home-made pomanders. Photo: Caroline Young

What with unwanted gifts, piles of discarded wrapping paper, naff toys from crackers and inevitable over-consumption, Christmas can be a tremendously wasteful time of year. These tips can help make your festive season at least a little greener than last year’s.

Get organic food directly from local producers to reduce food miles, fossil-fuel-made pesticides and unnecessary food wrapping. In Hackney, visit Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market, held on a Saturday morning at William Patten School on Church Street. “Because the food is transported direct from the farm, there is minimal packaging,” explains Kerry Rankine from social enterprise Growing Communities, which runs the market. “Most of the farmers will also take back cartons, bottles and egg boxes for re-use.”

Decorations are another potential post-Christmas pollutant. Avoid those foil ones that look like they were cheaply produced, and which by next year will look so tatty you’ll be tempted to buy more. Instead, opt for decorations made from natural materials, or better still, make your own sprayed pine cones, pomanders and holly wreaths.

If you’re buying a real Christmas tree and live in a property that uses brown bin collection, make sure it’s recycled by placing it outside by the bin on your collection day. Those without the brown bin service, or who live on an estate or in high rises, can take it to Millfields Waste Depot until 15 January. Alternatively, arrange for it to be collected using the council’s online bulky waste collection service.

But consider this – David Rees from the Hackney Environment Forum hasn’t bought a Christmas tree for years. Instead he decorates his larger pot plants and surrounds them with candles. He also enjoys going ‘off path’ in his local park, armed with secateurs and strong gloves, in search of evergreen branches to adorn his place. “There is nothing like fresh greenery in your home at mid-winter,” he said. “You only need a little for a real warm Christmassy feeling.

“Cut different lengths of young, flexible branches to suit your home, furniture and decorations, choosing lengths with plenty of leaves.  Flexibility is important because you will be arranging and bending the branches. Old wood will not be useful because it is rigid.”

David says while small young trees should be left well alone, you needn’t worry about damaging well-established ones because many have been planted in parks by local groups recently. “Just take just so much from any individual tree,” he said. “It will replace the branch very quickly, and more, in the next year.”

Holly works well in small sprigs, so why not take a tip from the choir singers and deck your hall with boughs of the stuff? Or bend it into a wreath and decorate with slow-baked citrus slices. Yew is another beautiful evergreen that grows fast and will quickly make up for a small loss of cut material. A warning though – holly berries and all parts of the yew tree are poisonous, so don’t let children or pets near them.

Presents are a tricky one because nobody wants a reputation as a Scrooge, but as Michael Calderbank from Hackney Environment Forum points out, do you really need to buy things that could end up in landfill? Or would your loved ones value more something you had put effort into? Try making jars of yummy stuff like jam, chilli oil, pickle or chutney, or fill last year’s biscuit tins with rum truffles or freshly-baked cakes.

If you do want to spend money, gift vouchers will ensure your recipient really does like your present. These don’t have to be boring – how about a shoe-making experience at ICANmakeshoes in Dalston (from £50), a voucher for the Rio cinema on Kingsland High Street (minimum £10), or simply a cheque book full of favours? This is sure to cheer up someone’s New Year.

Sometimes only a wrapped gift will do, so go for something made by one of Hackney’s designers or artists – see the Citizen‘s listing of Christmas markets and fairs.

Avoid the one-hit wonder that is wrapping paper by covering presents with attractive magazine cut-outs or colourful plastic or paper bags – you can always make it look extra pretty with ribbon. And remember to keep all the reusable shiny bags and paper you receive gifts in to decorate the gifts you offer next year – an iron can do wonders for a used sheet of gift wrap (cover with a tea towel to avoid it catching light). Used greeting cards, too, can be chopped up into pretty shapes and reused to make gift tags.

The key to ensuring your Christmas is as green as can be is thinking ahead and making sure what you eat, give and enjoy does not cost the planet dearly in terms of travelling or discarding. Don’t leave it all till the last minute – this is bound to result in hasty, thoughtless and therefore potentially wasteful purchases. Give the car a break, and make time to enjoy Hackney’s green spaces to ensure a healthy body and soul to carry you through winter.

How to make: pomanders

You will need: oranges, ribbon, pins, cloves and a skewer or toothpick

1. Pin two pieces of ribbon around each orange, crossing over each other at the bottom so they leave four quarter sections

2. Decorating one quarter at a time, use the skewer or toothpick to make the holes where the cloves will go

3. Gently push the cloves into the holes

4. Hang in doorways and on door handles and enjoy the Christmassy aroma



Real news stories don't come cheap.

The Hackney Citizen is the borough’s only independent newspaper, and is now in its tenth year.

Our hard-hitting journalism has uncovered fire safety failures in tower blocks, revealed plans to criminalise rough sleepers, exposed dodgy letting agents and reported on many other issues of public concern.

We’ve always been totally free in print and online, but advertising revenues are falling.

That’s why we’re asking for your help.

Hackney Citizen’s high quality journalism is produced by a small team on a shoestring budget, so we’re asking you to make a monthly contribution to fund our work, enabling the paper to survive and thrive.

Support the Hackney Citizen from as little as £2 per month.

Can you spare £4 a month or more? Get the paper delivered direct to your door each month! (UK only)